WOMEN AT LIBERTY

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Motivational Moments

October 2, 2012 


In May 2012, I had the opportunity to meet with Dean John T. Delaney, PhD. of the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.  We talked about the current state of women in executive leadership and why women do not choose to get advanced business degrees at the same rate they obtain professional degrees in other areas, like law and medicine. 

That discussion was the catalyst for a series of blogs and articles. This last installment, "The Pitt Experience",  talks about my educational experience at the University of Pittsburgh and some potential strategies for increasing the number of women enrolling in Business School. 

The Pitt Experience!

The Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania provided an engaging and supportive environment for me to further my education in business. I began my Master’s degree studies there 10 years after graduating with a degree in business from Howard University in Washington, D.C. As discussed earlier in this series, I was the only African American enrolled in the “Flexible” (Flex6) Executive MBA Program. (See Class Picture) The “Flex” programs met for two weeks once a quarter instead of meeting every other weekend like most other Executive MBA programs. Students who needed more flexibility because of their work, travel or home responsibilities were given the opportunity to get a graduate business degree. Although I did not get a chance to see a lot of other African Americans students who were enrolled in the full-time and week-end MBA programs because of our quarterly class schedule and work load, they were there.

 

I did not feel uncomfortable being the only African American in my class. The Katz staff took good care of all of us and they made sure that I was introduced to two of their African American professors, Dr. Audrey Murrell and Dr. Daria Kirby Crawley. Dr. Murrell was a fellow Howard Alum who, at that time, was teaching courses in the undergraduate program and Dr. Kirby was also teaching undergraduate courses. They both proactively extended themselves to me and I enjoyed the few times we got a chance to chat or grab a bite to eat.  I was very proud that they were a part of the staff at Pitt and just their presence was reassuring. Another Howard Alum whom I knew very well was also there getting his doctorate degree in business. This all helped in welcoming me to Pitt and making me feel at home.

I think another area that made me feel comfortable was developing relationships with my classmates. During my first residency at Pitt, I stayed at a hotel that was within walking distance of the school so that I could stay late at school, study and do AT&T work after classes. I had reverted to my undergrad and regular work mode of working late.  But by the third residency, I joined most of the other out of town students and moved to the hotel about 30 minutes away from school. The hotel had been chosen by the students because it was cheaper and the rooms had kitchens. The benefit was that I got a chance to develop some great relationships and eat a few home-cooked meals hosted by my female classmates, of course.  I’ll never forget some of the conversations I had with fellow AT&Ters Missy Manns and Belkis Pena. Chuck Cleary, a Pittsburgh native who worked for AT&T Wireless, was our class’ official hometown host and made sure we visited some of the city’s hot spots. Most memorable for me was when he took “carless” me to see the “The Preacher’s Wife”, starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, on opening night.

 

The Katz Graduate School of Business offered me a great business education and the opportunity to interact with a class that was diverse in their work professions and ethnic backgrounds. There was a medical doctor in the class, a vice president from a paper manufacturer, hospital executive, an engineer, Human Resource professional, director from Johnson & Johnson, Managing Director for telephone equipment operations in Asia, and an entrepreneur from New England. Our instructors were also very accessible and made the classes relevant with a lot of case work using real-world problems.

Given the program’s global emphasis, the capstone trip to Prague in the Czech Republic, Italy, and Paris, France was a significant experiential learning experience. At the time, I wanted to do an international work assignment and that’s one of the reasons why I applied to the Pitt program. As you can see from the pictures (click here), the class got a chance to do both work meetings and some fun activities. We visited several different types of companies including a factory, local chamber of commerce and Katz Graduate School’s local Executive Education Program in Prague. Personally, I went to a chamber concert in Prague and a choir festival in Italy. It was a wonderful experience. I even extended my stay and went to London for Halloween with one of my classmates. Then I took the Eurostar to Brussels, Belgium where I visited the AT&T office.

 

Besides travelling to Europe for the first time, I experience some other “fun firsts” like going to a baseball and hockey game. (Hockey is just one period too long for me.) I was very fortunate that the Katz Graduate School of Business helped me to expand both my professional and personal perspective in the way it did.

So we know that business school is usually a great experience that enhances the skills and life of those who graduate. The prevailing question is, “How can we make business schools more attractive to women?”

 

  • Outreach and Mentor programs—As mentioned in the earlier Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) article (See Finding Future Women MBAs: B-Schools Still Face Challenges), there are a number of programs by GMAC and the Business Schools that are focused on recruiting more women. However, maybe companies should also think about encouraging, mentoring and adopting business clubs at the senior high and undergraduate level.  Alums could also be helpful with targeting this audience with information about business careers and raising an awareness of the benefits of going to Business School for business and other professions. 
  • Help potential students overcome their fear of math—When I surveyed a few readers on Facebook regarding why some women did not consider going graduate Business School, one response I received was regarding the math courses required. A Calculus course is a required for most MBA programs. Dean Delaney offered some strong advice regarding not shying away from this challenge.  He said, “I worry that the mental model that leads to avoiding an MBA program because of math anxiety may also encourage women (or men) to avoid taking calculated risks on the job or taking hard assignments or trying a stretch promotion. My experience suggests that women are absolutely as capable as men.” Great advice!

  • Increase the number of women deans and professors—A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled, “More B-Schools Choose Women as Deans”, quoted Linda Livingstone, dean of Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management, as saying, “The presence of women deans, just like the presence of women executives in the corporate world, helps [students] to see the kind of things they can do and where they can go." As you can see from the aforementioned reference to the informal mentoring that occurred during my Pitt experience, women and minority professors and deans most definitely are a positive for a graduate school endeavoring to attract a more diverse student body.

  • Strong Alumni Networks—One thing lacking during my Pitt experience was the connection to other Pitt students and Alumni.  Part of the reason was the type of Executive Education program I was enrolled in did not allow me to spend a lot of time on campus developing friendships with the student body. But one positive and impactful initiative that the University of Pittsburgh and Katz Business School is working on is developing a stronger Alumni network by hosting networking events with Alums in cities around the world. They are also using social networks (e.g., Facebook and Linked In) to develop better relationships with and between Alums.

 

These are a few suggestions that I believe will help to increase the enrollment of women in graduate programs and hopefully increase the number of women executives.  You may have other suggestions or have some feedback on my recommendations.  Feel free to weight in.

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To read the first article of series by Dean Delaney about women choosing to pursue MBA degrees, click here. To view all of the articles, see the Leadership Tuesdays' link below.

  
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